This fanged fish's venom is like heroin

Richard Smith  OceanRealImages

The fang blenny is a popular tropical aquarium fish as well. In fact, a decent dose of Fang Blenny poison will leave a predator's blood pressure down by up to 40%.

Prof Fry added: "Fang blennies are the most interesting fish I've ever studied and have one of the most intriguing venoms of them all". Fang blennies bite their targets, and it's possibly the only example of a species evolving venom to defend against predators rather than attack. Because the researchers used mice for the pain test, they can't rule out the possibility that the venom does cause pain when injected into other fish. Unlike most venomous creatures, blennies don't use this venom for capturing prey - they use it to escape their predators by getting them high.

It's a tough life being a 1.5-to-3 inch (four-seven centimeter) fish in a big ocean/aquarium, as the fang blennies have found over the ages. The unique makeup of the substance could potentially be used to develop new painkillers for humans. These peptides were not selected for this use in the fish, but rather evolved because they also cause hypotension dizziness and induce uncoordination. The fish were then returned to the tanks and the swabs were suspended in a solution to draw out the venom.

Wondering what could be causing the larger fish to quiver and then release the fang blennies, Dr. Casewell analyzed the make-up of the venom and found out that one of the secret weapon of the fang blennies in the studies were opioids in their bites.

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Now scientists found its unique venom which could lead to the next "blockbuster pain-killing drug".

Bryan Fry: While we have known for a long time that fang blennies exist, their venom system has remarkably never been investigated.

The second, neuropeptide Y, has been found in cone snails, and causes blood pressure to drop.

Unlike the toxins emitted by other poisonous fish, the venom isn't lethal.

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All fang blennies have hollow fangs on their lower jaw, but only Meiacanthus species have venom glands and grooves for the venom to travel to the fangs.

Dr. Casewell and the other scientists who took part in the study hope that their research will encourage further research into fish venom and the chemicals it contains.

In the biodiverse realm of coral reefs, other species also "mimic" the fang blenny - developing similar striped patterns and bright colours that may fool predators into thinking that they too are opioid-laced. Nicholas Casewell, a lecturer at the Liverpool School of Topical Medicine and an author of the study, shared that out of 100 species, only about 30 kinds of blennies are venomous.

"These unassuming little fish have a really quite advanced venom system, and that venom system has a major impact on fishes and other animals in its community", says Casewell. We spoke with Bryan Fry, a biologist at the University of Queensland, about his findings and the chances this newly discovered resource will survive the effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.

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Prof Fry concluded: "This study is an excellent example of why we need to protect nature".

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